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“If Americans Are Wise They Would Not Meddle in Iran’s Affairs”

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Originally posted by Farideh Farhi at ICGA:

Calling for the American use of wisdom was Gholamali Haddad Adel, the conservative speaker of the parliament, as he was registering as a candidate for the upcoming March 14 parliamentary elections. “Last time Bush also advised people not to participate in the elections. His suggestions this time will also have the same fate as his last suggestion. If Americans are wise they would not meddle in Iran’s Affairs.”

The issue of “U.S support for some groups” in Iran’s elections was also brought up is a January 8 speech given by Ayatollah Khamenei. He said, “The sensitivity of the leadership regarding elections is due to the concern that some individuals find their way to the parliament who have tendencies towards being dominated, weak in front of powers, and passive when facing international agitations.”

Two days later, reacting angrily to the call for the international observation of Iranian elections by the opposition group, Freedom Movement, Ayatollah Khamenei was even more explicit:

“American support for anyone in Iran is a disgrace. Both people and the group for which the president of America has declared his support should think why America wants to support that group and that group had what deficiency that made America to come to its support… We must be careful so that the elections do not become a plaything in the hands of foreigners and political groups and individuals should define their boundaries with the enemy because if these boundaries lose their color or are erased, there is the possibility of the enemy crossing these boundaries or some individuals carelessly falling into the lap of the enemy…Political groups and individuals, along with delineating their boundary with the enemy, must also define their boundary with the hired hands, servants, and individuals who are in the service of the enemy.”

Taking cue, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the current deputy speaker, decided to talk about the “hatred” of the people for groups that are “petrified of” and are supported by foreigners. “The experience of a colored coup in Iran has been defeated and the groups connected to foreigners cannot go up the ladder of elections through agitation and making noise and surrender the country to foreigners.”

All this accusatory and threatening thunder occurred in a week in which candidates for the March 14th parliamentary elections are registering (registration period was extended for a day and will end on Saturday). So the question is what the conservatives, with the protection and cue from Ayatollah Khamenei, are up to. I can think of two objectives; one having to do with transforming the general atmosphere that has characterized recent elections in Iran and second essentially revolving around the conservatives’ campaign strategy.

Regarding the transformation of the atmosphere, I should make clear that Iranian elections (and amazingly this will be the 28th election since the 1979 revolution, counting the first three elections regarding the founding of the Islamic Republic, election of the Constitutional Assembly, and ratification of the constitution) are always raucous with lots of accusations flying around from all sides. But the periods leading to elections, particularly in the past few elections, are usually periods when a conversational space opens and many issues regarding the manner elections are held, the vetting process, handicapping of many political players, constraints imposed to prevent a truly competitive process, and impediments to a truly democratic process are aired. The clear and unambiguous references to the “enemy hands” and domestic groups and individuals wanting to “surrender to the enemy” are intended to close that conversational space and in all likelihood will be successful at tightening it.

To be sure, there will be numerous complaints about the tightening of this conversational space in reformist and opposition blogs and websites but newspapers connected to various political groups which are contesting the conservative control of the parliament will have to stay away from complaints about the rules of the game lest they’ll be accused of having sold their souls to George Bush. In Iran, like in other contested political environments, the charge of weakness against the enemy, or using the enemy’s talking points, is usually a pretty good conversation killer.

It is the desire to close this conversational space about the unfairness of the rules of the game that made the supreme leader to talk disdainfully – in a not so disguised reference to the reformist deputies who engaged in a 2004 parliamentary sit-in when they found out that they were barred from standing in the next election through disqualifications – about “those who intended to suspend the elections four years ago with a show and a game.” This open expression of disdain is of course also a cue from the leader that the wholesale disqualification of the reformists of the type who won in the sixth parliamentary elections is not only fine but expected.

The tightening of the conversational space is only one aspect of what is going on. For the conservative candidates like Haddad Adel and Bahonar, the focus on foreign enemies and their domestic servants is also intended to serve the much more mundane purpose of helping them win in an election which they worry conservatives might lose to more centrist candidates.

By pointing the accusatory finger towards the reformists, they hope to change the conversation and deflect attention from the criticism – coming even from the centrist candidates and parties with a good chance of doing well in the election – that the conservatives controlling the executive and legislative branches have been both reckless and incompetent in their running of the economy.

Instead, the “successes” the conservatives have had in defending Iran’s “national sovereignty” and standing tall on the nuclear issue will be touted with a constant reference to those who were ready to give in on the question of enrichment out of fear. This attempted change of conversation is also important for the maintenance of some sort of unity among the conservative ranks which are deeply divided over economic issues and policies pursued by President Ahmadinejad

The upcoming election will still be highly contested and choices have to be made. According to the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of running the elections, already close to 4200 candidates have so far signed up for the 290-seat parliament (including some big names such as the conservative Ali Larijani who was pushed out of his job as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator by Ahmadinejad). But the acrimonious nature of US-Iran relations is being used as an excuse to narrow the choices the electorate has. So the conservative Haddad Adel is probably secretly hoping that the Americans do keep meddling, of course only with their words and not in their deeds.

Irancove @ January 13, 2008

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